How we came to be
The good side
I think people are often confused about how an Aspie and NT manage to find one another and form a relationship that the NT will later claim is “intolerable.”
Countless times I have read, “You knew what you were getting into when you met, so why are you bitc*ing now?” or “Didn’t you realize your fundamental differences from the start?” or “It is your fault for choosing to ignore the obvious, no one could be that blind to reality.”
I have chosen to give the foundation of John and my beginning (in great length) in an attempt to answer how myself, and many other NT women end up living with a man who is completely opposite of themselves and not who they initially perceived. I believe that my experience (give or take a few specific details) is not so uncommon and may answer how two well-intentioned individuals could fall in love so sweetly… and become so toxic months or years later.
John and I first met in person at the Tampa International Airport on March 10, 2011.
After Jeff died (my first husband/John’s best friend) I was experiencing the flurry of typical grief stages a person initially endures after a traumatic loss. From trying to understand what actually occurred the day he chose to eat a bullet (replaying it over and over in my mind), to trying to make sense of why he chose that end on that day, to why he did not reach out to me one last time for help, to what he said or did leading up to that moment, to everything myself and daughter had lost.
In the midst of this initial sorrow I had begun talking to John over the phone randomly. I think we first began talking in regard to Jeff’s girlfriend, as she had not let up on the bizarre texts she sent me that made me question things I would not have otherwise. I would ask John for clarification on things she said, or what his thoughts were since he had known the two of them together before they moved to Florida. Sometimes we would talk about what likely happened that day and why his girlfriend was making up weird stories about unloading the magazine to his gun just before he shot himself (despite it being loaded in the police photos) and other nonsensical garbage.
I was torn between feeling empathy for her, wanting to blame her for not coming to me when he began making suicidal threats (as she claimed he had been vocally doing this for months leading up to his death), and hating her for being too dumb to realize she was not in a dramatic movie scene or playing games; that a man’s life was really on the line. I tried to make sense of why she was behaving the way she was (I wanted to be able to give our daughter answers someday) but John always reassured me that she was an idiot and I shouldn’t waste my time trying to make sense of such a clown.
John would always make me feel better when we talked and would validate my need to be reassured it was not my fault Jeff had ultimately chosen to take his life that Thanksgiving afternoon. He would make me laugh on the phone during our brief chats, and I felt an incredible closeness to him that instantly helped to greatly soften the anguish I was going through.
I am not sure when I told John about the promise I made to Jeff nine months before he died, (that I would get to know him if something tragic like that ever occurred) but I believe it was during the first months we began talking and texting. I think John felt a sense of peace with his own pain talking to me as well during those days, but he has never offered up insight about this to me.
As many people do, following the death of a loved one, I rummaged through everything I owned searching for things that Jeff had left behind to collect them in a central location (for our daughter in the future). I gathered old letters and clothing and other oddities (that were reminiscent of a man with such hilarity and liveliness) to remember the positive side of his life, not just the negative his death served to highlight. I read through everything he and I had ever written through the years.
One day I came across a book “Things to see and do before you die” (or something similar) that Jeff and I had acquired when we were still teenagers; we used to circle ideas as if making a plan for future adventures we hoped to someday share together. In this book there were spaces to fill in your own desires in life and he and I had randomly picked it up over the years and checked off things we had done, or wrote in more things we hoped to do. When I picked the book up on that particular day I found a bunch of folded papers within it that I had not seen before (it had been many years since I had even taken it off the shelf so I cannot be certain when he put them in it). When I unfolded the papers I was awestruck with what I had found and instantly wanted to call John and share it with him.
Jeff was a list-maker his whole life, and at some point he had taken this book and spent (God-only-knows how many) hours typing up (in list format) the things he wanted to do (or had done) that were contained within the pages. Discovering these papers felt as though Jeff had literally left a bucket list for myself, John, and B to go through after his death. It was both sad and exciting to have this as it gave a little piece of Jeff and his unrealized hopes in life for us to potentially carry out. I photographed the list and sent it to John and over the next week or so, he and I went through it in the evenings while talking over the phone. We discussed each adventure while marking down the things we had already done and the things we would also like to do. We spent countless hours laughing and sharing stories of some of the items that needed to be checked off already with tales of our separate adventures with the cherished friend we had lost. This became a focus, or direction for us to take in the next year as John and I began to plan ways to begin checking some of the things on the list off together.
I doubt Jeff could have known at the time that he was compiling this list, or forming an adult friendship with John, that he was putting together the very things that would serve to pacify his beloved former wife in the months following his traumatic death.
I decided during the conversations with John on the phone, that it was incredibly necessary for me to have a “real” funeral for Jeff since I took no part in the one in Michigan and felt it to be the most awful service in regard to what Jeff would have wanted. Jeff and I literally talked about everything in the 11 years we were dating, married, or close friends, and this included what we would want if we died, or how we would attempt to carry on without the other for our daughter B. Since John had refused to attend Jeff’s actual funeral in Michigan, and Jeff left behind an entire family (mine… who were all grieving the loss of him) and friends in Florida that could not fly to Michigan at the time of his death (conveniently during the holiday season where people are already struggling financially) it seemed appropriate to make something happen in Florida. I began planning a memorial to remember the positive side of Jeff and give his loved ones in Florida a chance to say goodbye; John enthusiastically agreed to fly in to attend.
Between the bucket list Jeff left and planning his memorial, John and I continued talking regularly and I began to find reason to not sob from the moment I opened my eyes in the morning until I fell asleep at night. I would not have considered ending my own life ever, as B was my reason for breathing and there was no way I would have ever abandoned her as well… but I truly did not think my heart could withstand the pain I was in and that it surely would stop beating soon. There were many nights I fell asleep wondering if I would wake up the following day because I could not physically or emotionally withstand the agony I was experiencing for much longer.
John gave me the means to laugh and focus on positive things, and no other person telling me “it’s not your fault” made me believe it other than when John said it. I believed at the time that John was the ONLY person who could empathize with my pain because I believed he was the only person who truly knew who Jeff was as an adult (the good and bad) and was the only other one close to him in the years before his death. I can honestly say that at the time (and even to this day), I credit John with saving my life during the first year after Jeff’s suicide.
He saved my life because he saved me from myself
When I was waiting at the airport for John to arrive for the memorial I was strangely nervous to meet him in person. I was not entirely sure if I would recognize him when he was walking in a crowd of other arriving passengers since I only vaguely remembered what he looked like and the only time I saw him in the flesh (since a chance meeting when I was only twenty) was at the funeral luncheon whereby his hat was covering most of his face. It felt odd to have butterflies in my stomach waiting for him since he wasn’t someone I was interested in romantically (the thought truly never crossed my mind) but I still did.
It was almost as though I instinctively knew John would play an important role in my future.
I was able to recognize John quickly when he stepped off the tram and my instant thought was, “Holy crap! John is gorgeous!”
I don’t think I prepared myself for how attractive John actually was in person and I was truly taken aback by his presence the moment I saw him walking toward me. I had seen photos of him over the years and had commented to Jeff that he was a good looking guy and must be gay if he was still single… but I never thought twice about him or his looks beyond those words.
No, I do not think that all single males over the age of 30 must be homosexual (nor would I care either way about that).
I used that rationale to explain away some of the things I knew about John over the years that struck me as odd. I knew he was incredibly annoyed by my former husband’s incessant discussions about female conquests. I had been told he once wanted to kick Jeff’s a$$ for using his laptop to surf porn when he wasn’t around. I knew he was single for much of the time Jeff lived with him, and it sounded suspicious when Jeff would tell me he had a girlfriend one day and did not the next and it sounded like he was always attempting to defend his friend’s lack of relationships when I asked how John was doing.
This lack of appreciation for Jeff’s pigheaded male accolades, seemingly single in all regards lifestyle, and striking blue eyes made me question if maybe he was just a hot guy not ready to be open about his sexuality. Either way, after meeting him that day I had a fairly rapid hope somewhere deep down that he was not gay. I had never found anyone that attractive the first time I locked eyes with them (other than Jeff). My sisters and family would comment repeatedly throughout John’s first visit to Florida that, “John is hot! Jeff was holding out on us!”
From the moment John and I were driving to my apartment together that afternoon, we were bonded. It took only moments to realize what Jeff saw in John while we made the short journey home. He had a sense of humor I had only known with Jeff prior, and he had a rational way of calming my emotionally charged conversations.
The evening before the memorial, John, myself, and younger sister went out drinking near the hotel we were staying at for the night. My apartment was tiny and Jeff’s mother and stepfather came down for the memorial as well and were staying with B for the evening so we got a room in downtown St. Petersburg to crash for the night. The three of us laughed together and cried as we let off some steam from the weeks prior and all of the planning that went into the memorial (by my sister and I). I got pretty drunk and ended up vomiting at some point before passing out on the bed (intense emotions and alcohol don’t mix well).
The following day (hungover) we set up the clubhouse for the memorial and later welcomed people to join us in celebrating the life of Jeffrey and the fun and charismatic man we all had known. It was a pretty emotional evening, but was filled with stories and laughter and toasting (with Limoncello) to life, love, and loss. My father drove Jeff’s truck up to the clubhouse which was particularly touching to many, as this was his vehicle for the last decade and everyone could remember seeing him sitting in it smiling.
John was particularly moved by this as he and Jeff always joked about how his large F-250 looked like a monster compared to Jeff’s tiny little toy truck, which was dubbed “lil Fella.” I saw John cry for the second time that night as he was standing alone in the darkness staring at Lil Fella. As I got close I could see his eyes welling up with tears and I reached out to hug him as he audibly sobbed in my arms. It made me feel good for some reason to see him visibly overwhelmed with grief as he had not displayed this in the days prior, and it somehow solidified to me that he was an equally emotional person to myself (causing me to feel closer to him).
After the memorial we retreated back to the hotel and went out for some more drinks and goofiness. My little sister was slightly alienated by John and me this night and went to bed long before we did. We opted to stay up and run around the hotel like teenagers being silly and going into areas that were off limit to anyone other than staff (this would become a favorite past-time for us in the year to follow during our mini-trips together).
John had a flight back to Michigan a day later (I believed he had to return to work) but I extended his flight by a few days so my sister, he, and I could go skydiving in Jeff’s memory.
Jeff used to tell my little sister and John that he was going to take them skydiving someday and all about how he loved doing it with me in Italy when we were younger. It made me feel good to be able to check off one of the promises he would have otherwise failed to keep with them.
Watching John with B during that time he was in Florida made me feel so happy, as he interacted with her in the same silly way her father used to and she genuinely laughed when she was with him. I was so afraid inside that my little girl was going to lose her sense of humor and laughter…
It was a bizarrely fun and emotional time for all of us having John around that week and set the stage for the next year of our lives.
PLEASE DON’T GO HOME
After John returned to Michigan I missed him terribly, in a way I found difficult to articulate to anyone. I felt alive and happy in his presence and after he left I had to deal with my grief again… alone. I did not like this feeling and wanted John to come back and make me forget how sad I was and be silly with B so I could see her eyes light up and hear her giggle again.
John and I talked on the phone almost every night and sent countless texts to one another throughout the day, every day. We delved further into Jeff’s bucket list, had competitive lock-picking contests over the phone (after a random discussion about the skill it takes to pick a lock turned into a near-obsessive way to distract ourselves), and just truly looked forward to talking to one another (often until we fell asleep on the phone, something I hadn’t done since I was fourteen). I was under the impression that John had a full time job (he led me to believe this and I had no reason to question it) so I did not think it would be easy for him to come and visit often, and I was in school full time for the military to obtain my nursing degree. I was surprised when John said he would be able to take time off and come down again for a week just over a month after he had returned to Michigan the first time, but did not question it (Why would I? I just wanted to be near him again).
My older sister watched B for me one night so John and I could go out for the evening downtown and I got a hotel room in one of my favorite old hotels near the water so we wouldn’t have to drive after having some drinks. We spent the night laughing and being immature and goofy (ran around this hotel as well after hours) and we laid together on a sea wall listening to the water and talking for what seemed like an eternity, we talked about how amazing it would be to live that close to the water.
I remember thinking about how much I wanted John to stay in my life forever, and how right Jeff was to request I get to know him when he died. I had already begun to develop feelings beyond a friendship at this point and his striking looks made it a million times easier to consider what it would be like to get closer to him.
At the old hotel that night, John kissed me for the first time… and then he passed out (it was probably well after 4 in the morning). That kiss sealed the deal for me as it was passionate and emotionally charged and just felt right… and he did not try to take it any further despite being in a hotel room and having alcohol on board. I called my sister from downstairs after he fell asleep and could hear the apprehension in her voice as she spoke. She was rightfully concerned about my rapid attachment to this man in the wake of suffering such a profound loss.
I didn’t want to hear it though…
I did not want to hear anyone’s warning to me about how close I was getting to John in the year to follow that night. As far as I was concerned, John was making me feel alive and he was the ONLY man that Jeff would have wanted me or his daughter to have around in his absence. Whenever I felt off about the fact that John had been Jeff’s best friend, I reminded myself that Jeff set this up, and that he and I were not married when he died… so it wasn’t like I was jumping into a relationship on the heels of being widowed (even though it sure felt like that). Despite the facts surrounding my “single-hood” the incredible closeness Jeff and I had and the belief on everyone’s behalf that we would end up together, led most people to still perceive John and my relationship to be somewhat inappropriate (like we were betraying Jeff) in that first year.
This time… when John left to go home to Michigan, I knew I wanted to be with him. I still was not certain how he felt about me because he was rather guarded (I thought) about discussing his feelings.
One night I received a text from John that read, “I am in love with you. I am sorry if that scares you, but it is true.”
This was the best thing he could have said to me since he had not openly said anything about his feelings toward me by that point; I immediately replied, “Just remember, you said it first.”
At the end of May (not even a month after he had returned from his second visit) John came back down to Florida. I had briefly asked him about his job and he said that he was going to be leaving it for a while altogether because he could not keep taking extended trips (a lie inevitably realized down the road).
On this trip he and I had planned a three day getaway to Key West together to check off some bucket list items and continue my blissful retreat from being an adult and newfound desire to live life to the fullest every day. We watched my favorite hockey team get beat out of the Stanley Cup finals together and proceeded to explore the tiny island throughout the night (we did not hit up the tourist spots) but instead opted to drive to a remote beach. We climbed a mysterious wall together in the near darkness and made out in the sand like a couple of teenagers. We laughed and laughed and even stayed up in our cottage-style villa watching stand-up comedy for a few hours to continue laughing. At one point after retreating to bed but still wide awake, John came out of the bathroom singing in a funny voice to Lionel Richie’s song Stuck on You (which had been playing in the background from a looping infomercial about the best love songs of the 1980’s).
The following day we returned to the mysterious wall we had been climbing the night before and discovered it was actually an enclosed garden that only appeared like a magical discovery to two drunk dorks in the middle of the night.
When we were walking around this garden area holding hands we passed beneath a series of brick tunnels and I had an instant flash and déjà vu experience of having walked beneath these same tunnels many years ago. I knew instantly, just as I had with Jeff when I first met him, that I had dreamt about this. I had a recurring dream in my early twenties of walking under these exact tunnels many times whereby I was holding the hand of a man I was deeply in love with. This dream always remained very clear to me due to the fact that I had had it several times and always felt concerned that the man (whose face I did not see) was much taller than myself; since Jeff was an inch shorter than I, it really bugged me when I awoke with the dream fresh in my mind.
But there I was… walking under that exact series of tunnels holding the hand of a man, John, who was much taller than myself with whom I had incredible feelings for. Being the spiritual hippie I am, I felt this was a clear indication that I was on the right path being with John and that everything that had happened to bring us to that very moment, was meant to be.
After our trip to Key West we spent time at my home with B taking up fishing for the first time (a love we would share in the future) and going out to dinner and being goofy and happy together.
We flew back to Michigan with John to celebrate Jeff’s sister’s (B’s aunt and my close friend) birthday and stayed in John’s condo.
We met John’s family and I discovered what wonderful people they were and B fell in love with the size and beauty of their home. It was awkward meeting John’s family as I was not certain how they perceived me or what John had told them about our rapidly evolving relationship with one another. There was something “off” in the way they looked at me (despite how kind they were) but I could not place what it was at the time. I would later realize that their looks were of unspoken concern for myself and daughter with the son/brother they knew, combined with apprehension and curiosity for why I was so drawn to him (John did not bring many women around his family in the past). John had told them no more about me than I knew about them. There were a lot of questions politely unaddressed during our first interactions with one another.
John would make two more trips to Florida during that summer which included a three day cruise to the Bahamas for myself and him and a trip to Disney for the three of us. We spent every visit together like we were on vacation with limitless funds (that were not limitless) and always had a few drinks to add to the mix which would serve to lessen my child-like nervousness around him and I now realize his as well. One thing I learned later was that when John drank alcohol, although he never appeared intoxicated in any way despite the amount he drank, he would openly talk about anything, to include feelings and things he would later appear devoid of (in the absence of alcohol).
When John was with us we did random fun things that most people would not think about on a given day, just because it seemed like a good idea or something new and fun to try. Having been very spontaneous and creative my whole life, I reveled in the behaviors John seemed to share with me in regard to the peculiar things I would pull out of my butt from time to time for personal amusement, not literally, just in case an Aspie reading is thrown off by that comment (totally kidding as I know by adulthood Aspies are able to identify that level of sarcasm!).
One morning for instance, I was attempting to feed John blood pudding (it was on Jeff’s bucket list so I thought it best to acquire some of my own) while John sat on the living room floor making origami for B and me. John did this… he read about something and then spent hours trying to figure out how to do it until he damn-near mastered it (the fascination I had in that man for his remarkable ability to create anything with just a small bit of information would serve to amuse me until this day).
John and I fed off of one another and would continuously find new things to do for fun and we both seemed equally willing to jump into living life to the fullest. I know the professionals want us to believe that Aspies are so rigid and stuck in routine that they shy away from new and random experiences, but with me by his side, it appeared John was loving the fact that his brilliant mind now had someone to share his random thoughts and eagerness to learn with. Perhaps he did not or would not have done many things on his own, perhaps Jeff had been the only friend to ever engage him in this way and that was why he fell so hard for me; either way, there was never a dull moment when we were together.
It was not just how he was with me, or the fun I was suddenly able to bring back to a world that had nearly collapsed on itself… John was good to B. They also began developing a close relationship that revolved around laughing and joking with one another, and he would constantly come up with new ways to amuse her as well. I often thought John was only coming around so much because he too had maybe made a promise to Jeff that he would look after his girls if he ever died, or that maybe John felt guilty for not being able to save Jeff and wanted to make up for it by taking care of B and I. I would not ever know if he experienced any of those thoughts, because he doesn’t talk about it.
It did not matter to me WHY John was there at that time… it mattered that he was good to my daughter, it mattered that he was keeping her mother sane, and it mattered that her father wholeheartedly trusted him (and therefore I should too).
WE LIVE TOGETHER… NOW WHAT?
John moved in during the month of October in 2011, just short of my lease ending at the apartment B and I had been living in and one month from the anniversary of Jeff’s suicide. We extended the lease for a few months while John looked for a new place for us to live when I was at school. He found us a 3-bedroom condo to rent on the 6th floor of an older complex in a wealthy neighborhood on Clearwater Beach. The condo had floor to ceiling windows that looked out on the Gulf of Mexico and inner-coastal waterway and was breathtaking to the eyes (although the inside was unchanged since the 1970’s and a future source of contention to a woman who “had to have” a nice kitchen and bathrooms in her home).
This is when I chose to stop ignoring that nagging feeling in my gut…